FAYETTEVILLE – For seven of the eight teams advanced to Omaha, the season ends for them as it did Monday for the Arkansas Razorbacks at the College World Series.
Usually haunted for a while by what-ifs, but ultimately reflecting how great it was to be among the Elite Eight weathering the regional and super regional gauntlets to play for the national championship.
The second guessing for Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn came with the postgame question that had to be asked — and was by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Bob Holt following Arkansas’ 4-3 loser’s bracket elimination game loss to the Miami Hurricanes.
Were there any thoughts of intentionally walking Jacob Heyward after Willie Abreu’s lead-off double in the bottom of the Miami ninth?
Heyward is the 9-hole hitter in the Miami lineup, but he was hitting like a 3-hole or cleanup man Monday. Heyward had already hit a two-run home run and then singled and ultimately scored Miami’s third run when Arkansas shortstop Michael Bernal threw errantly beyond third baseman Bobby Wernes, trying to cut down Heyward advancing from second to third on a grounder.
Miami coach Jim Morris started Heyward’s ninth-inning at-bat like he was the 9-hole hitter. He had Heyward trying to bunt over pinch-runner Carl Chester, Miami’s season-opening left fielder whom Heyward beat out for the starting job late season.
Heyward tried twice to bunt on Arkansas All-SEC closer Zach Jackson and failed. He had to hit away with two strikes and certainly did, delivering the game-winning hit into the outfield, scoring Chester from second.
The hot hand beat the Hogs, but Van Horn and Morris both played percentages that one of the more heralded Hurricanes hitters had the better chance to beat the Hogs.
So, Van Horn didn’t walk him, and Morris had him bunting.
“Not at all,” Van Horn replied if he thought of walking Heyward. “We were going to let him bunt him over. We got him down real quick, a couple of strikes. There’s no reason to put him on. Now if it had gone to a 3-2 count or something I guess you could make a decision. He just got a little bit of an elevated curve ball and did a nice job. He hit a mistake.”
Morris acknowledged he made the mistake having Heyward bunt.
“I had to be honest,” Morris said. “When we were trying to bunt and didn’t get him over, I was almost glad because I just had a feeling Jacob was going to get a hit. It was one of those days.”
Just one of those days, too, for Rick Nomura, Arkansas’ second baseman, delivering 3 for 4 with a RBI, and perhaps inches right or left from standing in Heyward’s game-winning shoes.
Nomura logged Arkansas’ last at-bat in its bases-loaded ninth against Miami closer Daniel Garcia. Nomura hit it hard, but at second baseman George Iskendarian.
So, Arkansas didn’t score in the ninth and Miami did.
“I thought he put together a pretty good at-bat,” Van Horn said. “Garcia came in and he has got a really good arm. He threw fast balls, threw a change-up and he (Nomura) fouled it off. He (Garcia) finally came with that breaking ball. It was a good pitch and Rick needed to swing at it because it was too close to take. He just hit it right at the second baseman. If he hits it one way or the other he has a shot to get it through. That’s kind of the way it worked.”
That’s generally how baseball works for the short haul. A 9-hole hitter’s heroics or hard shot caught determining the outcome.
For the long haul, though, getting to Omaha is a full season of making your own breaks and overcoming adversity.
The Razorbacks, opening the season floundering 11-12 overall and 1-5 in the SEC, overcame about two seasons worth of adversity to finish 40-25 in Omaha losing 5-3, and 4-3 heartbreakers to excellent Virginia (a Monday night winner’s bracket winner over SEC Tournament champion Florida) and Miami.
“I just appreciate the effort that this team put out this year,” Van Horn said postgame Monday. “We have come a long way. I am so proud of them and we continued to play so hard. You kind of saw a little bit of what we have been doing for the last 45 days in today’s game. Just grinding and trying to stay in games and try to find a way to win a game. We played a lot of close games. These guys are pretty tough mentally and we never shut it down. I told them that out there in the outfield. ‘You will never see me, hopefully, shed a tear when we finish a season in Omaha.’ I am so proud of these guys.”